1878 Diary of a 15-Year-Old Girl in Gorham, ME

This is the 1878 daily diary of Alice A. Shurtleff, a 15-year-old girl living in Gorham, Maine.

Table of Contents

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The Diary


According to a note at the beginning of the diary, 15-year-old Alice A. Shurtleff of Gorham, Maine received this 1878 diary as a gift from her mother on December 30, 1877. On January 1, Alice commenced writing in the diary and kept it daily for the entire year.

Alice’s parents, Atwood and Lizzie Shurtleff, worked in a coat shop in Gorham. Alice had an older sister named Bell and three younger sisters named Nettie, Nellie, and Bessie. The sisters often did sewing to help their parents with the coat shop.

Throughout the diary, Alice records events and simple details about the day such as the weather, visitors, what her parents did, and what she and her sisters were up to. For example, her entry on January 19 reads:

Been very pleasant today. Mother and Father have been to the shop today. Nellie, Nettie and I have been up to Mr. Benson’s tonight. Charles Benson was over. Nettie came home tonight. Nellie burned both of her hands playing blind man’s buff.

Tragically, the diary chronicles the illness and then death of Alice’s little sister Bessie. Bessie succumbed to Scarlet Fever at the age of four.

Bessie first fell ill on July 12:

Another quite pleasant day. U. William, Frank, Leeroy been here at work today going to work through haying. Elder Bean came here this afternoon, stayed here tonight. Bessie is sick tonight. I was down to A. Betsey’s tonight. They have been haying down there today. A. Betsey is not very well.

On July 15, the father went for a doctor for Bessie and the doctor returned again on July 16. On July 19, Alice reports that “Bessie is better today”. From there until November, Bessie seemed back to normal, going to church meetings with the family and visiting relatives.

On Saturday, November 16, Bessie fell ill again, this time with Scarlet Fever. Her days were numbered, as recorded by Alice:

Saturday, November 16

It has not been very pleasant today. Leroy been here part of the day. He finished the wood. Bessie is not very well today. Mr. Young been here with Kate today. Father hauled some wood from A. Betsey’s this forenoon.

Sunday, November 17

It has not been very pleasant today. Bessie is a little better tonight. Father, Belle, Nett, and Nell went to meeting this forenoon (13.5,6). Father, Nett, and I went to meeting tonight. Mr. Young carried Father up to get some medicines for Bessie with Kate. Horace came over after A. Betsey this morning. Annie called here today.

Monday, November 18

It has been raining all day. Father went over to Gorham Carrier this morning. Nell went up to Mr. Benson’s this forenoon. Mr. Young went after Dr. Coff. He was here tonight. He thinks she has got the Scarlet Fever. Mr. and Mrs. Benson been here today.

Tuesday, November 19

It has been quite pleasant today. Been a sad day for us. Little Bessie died tonight. About six o’clock. Dr. Coff and Dr. Dunn were here today. Dr. Dunn twice. Mr. and Mrs. Benson been here most all day. Mrs. Benson and A. Ellen stayed here tonight. Little Bessie has gone home safe.

Thursday, November 21

It has been quite dull again today. Mrs. Benson, Aunt Ellen, and Aunt Sopha been here this forenoon and Lucinda part of the time. Little Bessie was buried this afternoon (Job 5.7). Elder Twort preached. Mr. and Mrs. Benson stayed here to supper.

Friday, November 22

It has been raining all day. Aunt Sopha is here. Mrs. Benson was here this morning but has been awful lonesome today without little Bessie but she is better off than we are. She is by the gate watching and waiting for us.

A full transcription of the diary is available further down on this page.


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The 1878 Diary of 15-Year-Old Alice A. Shurtleff of Cumberland County, Maine

This is a full transcription of the diary. If you would like to save your place while reading, simply bookmark or copy/paste the website address. The website URL contains the page of the book that you are on. When you return using that link, the book will be open to the page you saved.